Geological Knowledge of Greeks in the Era of Trojan War

Here we present the ‘Abstract’ of  Professor emeritus of Geology Ilias D. Mariolakos’  (National & Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece) contribution to the book “Science and Technology in Homeric Epics” where a number of papers are included.


Among the many important historical, cultural and geographical elements found in the two Homeric epics, Iliad and Odyssey, there are many that allow the present-day geoscientist to draw indirect conclusions about the geological knowledge of the inhabitants of the Aegean and Circum-Aegean region.

By the end of 19th century, K. Zeggelis, published a monograph, entitled The Science of Naturein Homer (1891), where, among others, he mentioned and commented on the poet’s references on minerals (metals and non-metals), their origin and the metallurgical knowledge of the people of that era. The opinion of Zeggelis that the metallurgical processes used, although known at the time of Homer, were not performed in Greece, but in other (probably Oriental) countries has been rejected by the newest archaeological and archaeometric studies, showing that metallurgy and smelting had begun in Greece long before the Trojan war, even before the Mycenaean times.

In this paper, we shall refer to the indirect conclusions to be drawn by the modern geoscientist, regarding the technical knowledge of the prehistoric Greeks, by studying drainage — anti-flooding works and dams constructed in Arcadia, during the Mycenaean times.

Arcadia was chosen because, as mentioned, the Arcadian king Agapeinor, son of Lycurgus, who lived in the town of Tegea, lead 6,000 Arcadians against Troy. The army was carried on 60 ships, offered by Agamemnon.

In the greater area of the Arcadian Plateau, a series of basins constitute a geologically “composite” polje. These basins are: the Takka basin, the Mantineia basin, the Argon Field (Nestani plain), the Levidion — Ancient Orchomenus basin and, finally, the Kandela basin. In three out of these five basins, the prehistoric people of Minyans had constructed a series of earth dams and other drainage works, as mentioned by Pausanias. These works were studied in great detail by J. Knauss, Professor of Hydraulic Engineering in Munich Polytechnic School.

These works aimed at:

  1. (i)

    protecting great parts of the basins against flood waters coming from the surrounding moun tains and the many karstic springs of the areas, thus increasing the land suitable for cultivation (land reclamation);

  2. (ii)

    securing irrigation water; and

  3. (iii)

    draining the many small swamps formed in the various plains, thus reducing the risk of malaria.

The detailed study of these works by Knauss, by a hydraulic engineer’s point of view, show that Minyans were not only skilled engineers, but that they also had excellent capacity and knowledge on construction-site management, project management (very similar to the knowledge of modern-day engineers ), and that they were also capable of “diplomatic” interventions between cities, etc. The scientific and technological knowledge of the Minyans are comparable to those of modern scientists in matters related to the study of:

  • the meteorological and climatic conditions of an area,

  • the river-yields and their sediment load,

  • the topography,

  • the physical and mechanical characteristics of soils,

  • the geology of the flood basin and of the greater area, as well as the hydrogeological characteristics of the alpine and post-alpine geological formations,

  • the karstification and the hydraulic behavior of the karstic forms (caves, sinkholes, karstic springs, etc.),

  • and many more.

(the ‘Abstract’ is taken from here You may find the whole book for online-reading here


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